Dog Care

Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers? 3 Facts You Should Know

Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers? 3 Facts You Should Know

Written By Rebecca Paredes

Aug 9, 2016

Dogs have whiskers for a few important biological reasons. You shouldn’t trim or remove dog whiskers for the following reasons:

  1. They are highly sensitive receptors

  2. They help dogs understand their surroundings

  3. They illustrate how a dog feels

From their sweet snouts to their perky ears, dogs have plenty of lovable features. But sometimes, our pups leave us with more questions than answers. Have you ever taken your pup’s squishy face in your hands, basked in their fuzzy glory, and wondered aloud, “Why do dogs have whiskers?”

Unlike cats, dog whiskers can grow in a variety of patterns. My Aussie Cattle Dog mix, Martha, has whiskers on her chin, along her snout, and above her eyes. Wherever you might find them, whiskers serve a few important purposes, and you should never trim or remove them unless it’s for a specific medical reason.

1. Dog Whiskers Are Highly Sensitive Receptors

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Also called vibrissae, whiskers are long, thick, and deeply embedded hairs. Most mammals grow vibrissae. Cats can even grow whiskers behind their wrists! A whisker hair follicle is filled with blood vessels and nerves that communicate with your pup’s brain. This is why your pup will shy away if you touch their whiskers — they’re super sensitive!

If a dog whisker falls out, it’ll grow back over time, just like regular hair. Some groomers and pet owners even opt to trim long whiskers for aesthetic purposes. While this won’t hurt your pup (it’s the equivalent of trimming hair), the end result will leave your dog feeling uncomfortable and stressed.

Whatever you do, don’t pluck your dog’s whiskers. That’s like plucking your nose hair — ouch!

2. Dog Whiskers Help Dogs Understand Their Surroundings

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If you remove a dog’s whiskers, they may move more slowly in dimly lit rooms. Why? Well, whiskers help your pup understand their environment in ways their eyes cannot. Animal expert Pete Wedderburn says that whiskers allow “dogs to investigate and understand their environment by touch.” That information informs your dog about the size and shape of objects around them.

Additionally, whiskers are long and thin enough to pick up changes in air currents and air pressure. Yup — it’s like your pup has superpowers! Changes in the air help your dog understand the speed and direction of nearby objects, among other information. From the mighty Great Dane to the diminutive Chihuahua, whiskers help your pup navigate the world like evolution intended.

3. Dog Whiskers Illustrate How A Dog Feels

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Even though dogs can’t speak (if only!), we can learn a lot about their moods and emotions based on their body language. In fact, whiskers can actually reveal if your dog feels threatened!

When your dog feels relaxed, their whiskers will remain still. But if they feel like they’re in danger, they’ll often point their whiskers forward. According to PetMD, cats will display similar behaviors with their whiskers. If they’re feeling nervous or stressed, they’ll even pin their whiskers back toward their face. Paying attention to these small cues can help you and your pup finally speak the same language!

So, Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

In short: dogs have whiskers because they’re an evolutionary trait. Dog whiskers allow your pup to understand the space, size, and speed of objects in their environment. They’re also used to express certain emotions.

As mentioned earlier, some groomers will trim long whiskers. You should ask your groomer about their whisker policy before you drop off Spot. Let your pup rock their natural whiskers — and whatever you do, don’t pluck them!

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Do you love your dog’s whiskers? Tell us about them in the comments!